Trump’s looming 2024 bid leaves Republicans in a bind

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Gabby Orr

Trump’s looming 2024 bid leaves Republicans in a bind

Some Trump allies claim the president would help other Republicans, too, by declaring his candidacy almost immediately after leaving office, suggesting it would save the party a contentious primary between Trump-hostile characters and those vying to claim his ultra-loyal base. But other confidants have encouraged Trump to keep the public in suspense, and instead spend the next two years strategically undercutting the Biden administration and lending his help to House and Senate GOP candidates.

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The result is a party in a holding pattern — one incapable of starting its long-term planning for 2022 or beyond until Trump makes up his mind, according to interviews with 13 current or former administration officials, party operatives and Republican donors. And even if Trump does make a swift decision to run, the GOP will then be beholden to the ex-president’s whims.

“If he starts holding grudges against sitting officeholders and donors who decline to throw their support behind him, it is going to put Republicans in a bind,” said Jon Thompson, a former Trump aide who left the president’s reelection campaign earlier this year.

In sum, it could be a taxing few years for Republicans, with GOP institutions that are expected to remain neutral having to grapple with Trump’s grip on millions of voters, not to mention the insults he hurls at those who fail the loyalty tests.

Already, Trump’s loyalty fixation has caused a headache for top Republican officeholders.

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who co-chaired the president’s reelection operation in the Midwestern battleground state, encouraged the White House in mid-November to begin the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden, the president publicly solicited a primary challenger to take on DeWine in 2022. In similar comments this week, Trump snubbed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp after he claimed the president’s legal team has yet to furnish credible evidence of voter fraud in his state.

“The governor has done nothing. I’m ashamed that I endorsed him,” Trump told Fox News on Sunday.

And after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey certified Biden’s victory in the traditionally red state on Monday, Trump slammed his former ally on Twitter: “What is going on with @DougDucey? Who needs Democrats when you have Republicans like Brian Kemp and Doug Ducey?”

One person close to the president said Republicans who are up for reelection in 2022 will find “that it is impossible to run a successful campaign if you are not on Team Trump,” adding that this standard will apply even if the president has not announced a 2024 run. Several people familiar with Trump’s thinking said the president fully intends to stay active in politics upon leaving office, unlike Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who mostly stayed out of the spotlight during their first few years of retirement.

“His post-presidency role will be more unique than anybody in recent history,” said a former White House official.

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If Trump does proceed with an early presidential announcement, “It won’t be a shot across the bow at any other Republican, it will be a shot at Biden and the Democrats,” the official added.

The president came close to a 2024 announcement at a Tuesday night Christmas party at the White House — at one point telling a roomful of Republican National Committee members “I’ll see you in four years.”

“He thought he was going to win and feels his work is not done — that he can contribute more with a Republican House and Senate. And he thinks he was cheated,” said the former White House official.

Initial GOP reaction to the Trump 2024 rumors show the potential fissures ahead.

Several rumored 2024 hopefuls — from Sens. Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio to Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida — immediately described Trump as a shoo-in. Yet RNC officials have insisted the committee would remain neutral, even if the party itself would no doubt be impacted.

Most White House allies agree that an early announcement would freeze the primary field. Trump acolytes like Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. would likely forgo their own bids. Insurgent candidates would have a difficult time peeling off votes from the party’s Trump-loving base. They also said it would give party officials a fundraising edge ahead of the 2022 midterms and 2024 general election.

A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released before Thanksgiving captured the advantage Trump might have if he launched a second White House bid: 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would support him in a hypothetical 2024 GOP primary, a number that would likely grow if Pence (12 percent) and Trump Jr. (8 percent) were removed from the equation.

“Right now, if he did decide to run I’d probably support him. I would start fundraising for him right now, as would others,” said Doug Deason, a top Trump donor who has already met with other 2024 GOP hopefuls this year.

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But other Republicans said an early campaign announcement would put other GOP hopefuls and top donors in a tough spot, particularly as the RNC insists on remaining neutral. The committee cannot offer a candidate support during a presidential primary, according to its governing rules, and Chair Ronna McDaniel has already taken steps to underscore her neutrality — including by inviting more than a dozen potential 2024 contenders to the party’s winter meeting in Florida next month.

“Any kind of financial relationships we currently have with the Trump campaign, as well as list-sharing, will all be unwound by the time the president leaves office,” said an RNC official, adding that “it is common for the RNC to invite a wide array of Republican leaders” to the party’s annual meetings.

Still, several Republicans suggested the president would likely pressure the RNC and donors to explicitly support him by wielding the influence he has over the party’s base as a threat if they decline. One former GOP delegate claimed the party already undermined its own claims of neutrality by downplaying a series of primary cancellations last cycle, when the president faced three anti-Trump challengers. At the time, RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile said the cancellations were “not abnormal.”

It could still be a painful four years for the party if Trump, who has repeatedly denigrated lawmakers, aides and former Cabinet officials for criticizing him or failing to meet his loyalty standards, does the same to party operatives and Republican politicians who decline to endorse him if he runs. What’s more, it would leave many of the party’s rising stars and rumored presidential hopefuls with the choice of waiting another four years for a shot at the Oval Office or challenging an ex-president with a ruthless posture toward those who cross him.

The same scenario extends to high-dollar donors, who have traditionally waited until the primary cycle kicks into gear — and candidates and their allies have established their own fundraising vehicles — to make large contributions to their preferred contenders. Thompson, the former Trump campaign official, said there would likely be a tremendous amount of pressure on prior Trump donors to lend financial assistance to his campaign or the newly-minted pro-Trump Save America super PAC the moment he jumps into the 2024 race — be it in January or after the 2022 midterms.

“If you’re looking at these donors who have been with him the past four years, they’re likely to be with him from the beginning because they’ve seen that if you’re disloyal to Trump you get frozen out,” Thompson said.

“If Trump reneges or doesn’t get the nomination, you can then shift your support to whomever else and he’s not going to hold it against you,” Thompson continued. “But if it’s the reverse and you’re coming back to the president, he is going to remember and he’s the type of politician that doesn’t forget.”

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